VIEWS FROM A BRIT
IMET a fairly new expatriate arrival to the Philippines the other day.
After five minutes introductory conversation, the lady came out with the question, “why is everything so difficult here?” That just about sums things up; everything is so difficult. It didn’t use to be like this.
The Philippines used to be a fairly easy place to live, albeit doing business for foreigners, has always been difficult.
There are to my mind two main factors in answer to the question above, and they both might be the same thing but from different directions: corruption and red tape. Red tape is to a point intended to restrict opportunities for corruption but in fact it has the opposite effect of encouraging it. The current administration is against corruption, and rightly so. But will this breed more red tape?
One of the main problems is perception, as highlighted in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International in which the Philippines now sits at number 141 out of 180. Whether or not an action, a process or a requirement does in fact have some corrupt “angle” to it becomes less important than the perception that in a corrupt business environment such as the Philippines, corruption is the first conclusion. “Ah, they must be doing this because they want a bribe,” just means that in the end nobody can trust anybody and yet more red tape is made to act as a surrogate for trust. But it doesn’t work. It spawns an active and highly professional forging business, and hones skills in lying. Even those who are trustworthy are assumed not to be, and if you are continually assumed not to be trustworthy then why bother being trustworthy when it’s easier not to be?
So what I conclude from this is that red tape is a negative influence on economic development. It exists mainly because the Philippines is at least seen as an environment of untrustworthiness and that some ways have to be found of changing that perception. For without changing that perception the Philippines stands little chance of moving fast forward, or even slow forward! The Philippines can’t get by in isolation from the rest of the world and without foreign involvement in its business.
So, how to get away from the view that everything is so difficult and that most transactions are difficult because they have some corrupt angle or other sitting behind them? To pay is undoubtedly not the way to do it. To continue to pay bribes etc. sustains the practice, like air hijackers or Somali pirates. We need to ensure that not paying is a better option than paying and to do that means that the red tape has to disappear and be replaced by trust, “innocent until proven guilty” rather than just always assumed guilty without a second thought, and often on the scantest of evidence. Sanctions in the case of proven breaches of trust should be high, in order to encourage trustworthiness and morally correct behavior.
Transparency is another related issue. Procedures put in place to encourage transparency frequently have the opposite effect.
Competitive bidding for example – who would think that an evaluation would be fair in the Philippines?
It’s easy not to tell the truth and avoid the confrontation – the avoidance of confrontation being so dear the Filipino heart. It’s also, in a Filipino context, better not to give people bad news, which may run the risk of embarrassing them, and which restricts the ability to give proper explanations. Due to these cultural characteristics it’s very difficult to get full transparency in the Philippines even if there is in fact nothing to hide, so people draw all the wrong sorts of conclusions – building yet more poor perceptions.
Better to explain frankly, openly and honestly regardless of the risk of causing people embarrassment.
And despite the fact that this way may take more effort . . .
I could not complete this particular piece of opinion without mentioning the level of salaries and wages paid around here particularly in the government sector. Obviously if people don’t earn enough to live on they will resort to other tactics and if you have a position of power devolved from the government then that is a good position from which to exercise informal public-private partnerships!!
In order to make everything less difficult, a bit of sorting out is needed and it’s a very big job indeed . . . I really hope that for the sake of the Philippines and it’s people and it’s future, that there is some determination out there to get things resolved and in a way that actually works effectively.
Mike can be contacted at mawootton@
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